A dream in time gone by, when men were kind, their words inviting

Last night before I went to bed, I sat down and wrote my affirmations for fifteen minutes. “I see my future as positive and bright. I am happy, I feel good. Regardless of external circumstances, I remain centred and calm.” This last one (a new edition) has made a surprisingly significant impact on my approach to and peace with life. As I slept, my lines filtered into my dreams, and the result was quite… insightful.

I dreamed I was on holiday in Singapore again, exploring the country. I kept my journal with me, writing letters to Beth and filling it with pages of affirmations. And, for some reason, I was enrolled in a high school. I got into an altercation with one of the “alpha males” (for what, I can’t remember) and he cornered me in a bathroom to intimidate, and possibly harm me. For once, I did not try to pacify my oppressor – I knew that the only way to assert my right to safety would be to meet his challenge full in the face. I stood half on the bathtub to make myself taller, threw a kingeri to his groin and punched towards his face, twice in quick succession. I pulled all of my attacks more than I normally would, stopping before contact with a kind of insipid overcommitment. But as I stood there, eyes cold, posture straight, relaxed and waiting for his response, he dropped his eyes to the floor and took a few steps back. He turned and walked away, defeated. Unfortunately, as I had risen to the bathtub I shattered a number of wineglasses, and the glass had cut my feet (though I had not shown any weakness before my adversary). As he left, I tended my wounds and cleaned the destruction wrought from my violence.

Shortly after that, my dream transferred me to a Year 2 class. I had to spend a week with six-year-olds, and the teacher of this class manifested as one of my least-liked teachers from social work. And in this dream, she hated me.

For reasons I could not identify, she loathed my existence and went out of her way to make me suffer. (Writing about it now, I can see similar experiences in the waking world that likely inspired my dream as it transitioned from short term memory.) She would call upon me in class to make sure I was paying attention, calling out silly noises with the six-year-olds designed to humiliate me, but I participated in good spirit. She noticed the mitsudomo I had on my necklace and marched up to me, telling me that no unauthorised jewellery was permitted. I found this ridiculously unfair as I noticed she herself was wearing a mitsudomo on a knotted steel chain. When I pointed it out to her, she clutched it defensively and told me in a pained tone, “This is who I am. Someone died to make this chain.” I responded “My chain is ordinary, but the pendant is my identity.” She let me keep it.

And finally, she started reading from a book out loud during storytime. I wasn’t interested, so I started writing to Beth about my experiences with this scornful woman. She finished reading and announced to the class that we would split into groups to act out the chapter she had just read. I had no idea what it was about, but I went along with my group willingly. Before I could stand though, she demanded my notebook from me because another group needed it for paper. I hesitated a moment, knowing it was full of my personal affirmations and about my experiences with her, and then gave it to her in trust that she needed it more than I did.

As I predicted, she flicked through it to see what I had been doing – she read the affirmations and hesitated. She found a page I had recently written on the different ways to hold a sword, the different styles of cutting and so on. She circled some of my illustrations and said to me, “I’ve drawn this too.” As she read over my notes, circling some and musing over others, her countenance flickered. Her scorn was giving way to a mutual understanding, a shared experience and the sympathy that comes with it. She paused at one diagram she hadn’t seen before and asked me “What does this mean?” It was a circle intersecting two other circles beneath it, which had four beneath it, expanding into a large triangle (like bowling pins, though numbering the hundreds.) “This represents the consequences of our actions. One action affects multiple people, and in turn they affect those around them. One becomes two, two becomes four and so on, until all the world is changed by what we do.” She thought about this and said nothing.

Later as we were practicing our skit, the bell rang for recess. One of the teachers came up to me and told me that Mrs X wanted to see me. I knew that she had reached the part of my journal where I spoke of her cruelty and unfairness. With courage, I sought her out, and she took me aside to talk to me. For a long moment we looked at one another without saying anything.
“Did you take offense to what I wrote?” I asked her at last. She said nothing. “Was it an untrue account of my experiences?” I pressed. She ignored my question and gave my journal back to me, saying with a sudden urgency, “You’re so close to understanding the nature of the universe. But your ambition blinds you.”
I felt offended at how direct and personal her comment was, but I swallowed my feelings before I responded. All of a sudden I felt I knew her intimately. She was once and intelligent, happy and loving person, who had been hurt so deeply it had cut to her heart. In her pain she lashed out and distanced herself from everyone for fear of being hurt again, but deep inside she was still that same good person. I said to her, “I mean no offense by this, but who are you to judge me? You who are so hurt, and who clutches your pain to your heart like a burning coal. You, who are intelligent enough to know that at any moment you can let go, yet still you cling to your grief so that you can show it to everyone you meet and inflict some of it upon them as well. I thank you for your feedback – I care a great deal about what you have to say – but have your own shit to work on. I’m far from perfect, and I’ll take your advice on board, but you have your own burdens to deal with. Let me help you with them.”

She paused a good long moment, staring me in the eye until she finally asked, “Why would you help me?” She glanced towards my journal, as if this contained all the proof she needed to assume that I despised her.
“Because I care about your happiness,” I told her. “And because I can see that you are smart enough to be happy at any moment you choose.”

I woke up shortly after. But it was a humbling experience that fundamentally altered my perception of humankind. I hope this is a lesson I do not readily forget.

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Stories from Singapore and Passages from Penang

Whoo! It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged and my memory is a little hazy around all the things that have happened. I’ll try and be brief, but concision is not my forté so I apologise in advance!

After my last entry, we had another late start, and decided to breakfast at an organic vegetarian cafe I had found on a blog, partially because it was nearby, but mainly because it sounded like it served Western breakfasts (an important grounding ritual for Beth in such a foreign culture). We found our way there and had our minds exploded by the quality of the food, so healthy, so pure, made with love and effort… It was quite a foodgasmic experience.

Elated by our success, we headed to Gardens By the Bay, a widescoping outdoor gardens with two gigantic indoor domes. The outdoor gardens contained flora from various countries in Asia (as far as I could tell, that was what grew most successfully in the humid heat), and amazing as they were, we were visiting at the hottest time of day and had other priorities. We headed swiftly for the air-conditioned Cloud Forest dome, containing within it what appeared to be an entire rainforest, set upon an artificial mountain, with a spectacularly cascading waterfall several dozen metres high. Beth looked incredibly radiant with the mist in her hair and her flowing top and loose shorts, and she very bravely stepped out onto the tree-top walk to survey the ecosystem from the railing above. We stopped for a sneaky agli olio and chocolate cake dessert, with an accompanying sparkling elderflower juice, before hitting up the Flower dome. We spent a few minutes admiring the furry succulents and pebble-like stone plants, before hastily returning to the hotel for some immediate R&R.

Ivy had invited us for drinks at Clarke/Robertson Quay (respectively the clubbing and cafe districts by the waterside), but Beth wasn’t feeling too up to a night out. Instead, I journeyed into the surprisingly deep cultural centre of Little India to find a recommended vegetarian eaterie. It felt great wandering the streets independently, going wherever I pleased and almost looking like I fit in. Perhaps a little too much so, for an elderly Chinese man approached me and asked me something in Mandarin. Did I politely respond that I couldn’t help him? Did I apologise and explain I didn’t understand Chinese? Nope. I startled like a deer in the headlights, then hurriedly pushed past him rather than trying to formulate a response. The food, as it so happened, was deliciously spicy, and if given the chance I’d eat there a hundred times over. Beth and I ate it out of the takeaway containers while watching (a very stressful) Poseidon. And speaking of TV, have I mentioned anything about the censorship? We were watching the first Sex and the City movie, and they edited out all of the sex scenes so half of the jokes/transitions didn’t make any sense. They showed Charlotte and her husband about to get it on, but censored out a gay kiss. And in How I Met Your Mother, they just silenced the word “penis” whenever it was used. Ahh Singapore, you crazy conservative cat you.

Ivy joined us for breakfast the next day. We returned to that amazing organic vegetarian place, but unfortunately a number of different websites conflicted about the opening time and we ended up arriving half an hour before it opened. That, coupled with their fifteen minute late start nearly caused me to miss my flight. We ended up catching a taxi instead of taking the train, so it turned out okay in the end! But let’s return to the food: gluten-free pancakes, pineapple fried rice and some kind of eggy-bread magic. Incredible. I know it’s silly, but I’m really hoping to go back to Singapore to eat there again! It was such a wonderful experience. Plus the company was rare and excellent, making it a lovely way to end the trip. Once at the airport I shot straight off to the departure gate, while Beth had the misfortune (or perhaps the pleasure?) of spending a few hours in Changi airport until her flight departed.

Thence I found myself in Penang, Malaysia, and I can cease my writing and revert to the time-honoured tradition of the copy and paste.

***

Anyway, the gist of the message that I wrote out last night was thus: I didn’t realise how instantly and painfully I would miss you as soon as we left. It was like part of me had been torn away, and I miss you so much. I feel so isolated and separate. I hope that your flight wasn’t too uncomfortable and that you enjoy a rejuvenating few days. I’m confronted with an overwhelming sense of panic as I’m not sure what to do with myself over the next few days- my anxiety is definitely getting worse. Lines help, but only a little. I guess I’ll keep at it and try not to get stuck up in my head.

I’m also feeling super vulnerable… I didn’t recognise that’s what the source of my anxiety was, but it makes a lot of sense now. I’m in an unknown place with unknown people, feeling largely alone and lost and helpless. What comfort and entertainment I brought with me (my 3DS and AFFC) is about removing myself from this uncomfortable reality and getting lost in a happier one. I don’t want to keep doing that- I want to be able to be happy here and now, but I just feel so… vulnerable.

I’m missing you so much baby. I’m feeling pretty insecure, and I know a little of how rude it is to just whip out my book when there’s conversation abound. But I’m just so uncomfortable. I hoped it was cultureshock, but I think it’s just me feeling uncomfortable because most of my usual comforts have been stripped away.

***

I finished A Feast For Crows last night. It ended on such a major cliffhanger that I promptly went out and bought A Dance With Dragons, rather than waiting another week until I could borrow it off your Mum. It was a real pleasure to read, which surprised me. [Someone], you’ll be pleased to know, is [spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoilered]. I can’t wait to find out what happens next! Well, I can, seeing as I’m writing this instead… But I’ll resume reading soon!

This morning Wu Shu took us back to his place and we did a “Hard” level Sodoku together. I had given up many times but he, apparently a numerical genius, gave me hints and numbers here and there until we solved it after perhaps an hour. It was more satisfying than I knew it could be. Thereafter we earned a very late lunch (3pm) and went to the bookstore. I bought Sin Ler “Tomorrow When the War Began” because I assume she’ll enjoy it (having learned she devoured The Hunger Games). She has a stack of other books to read (including “Young Samurai”, “Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus”, “Warrior” (kitty cats) and other really cool young adult series) so it might be a while before she gets round to it.

Gotta go now, get ready for Badminton at 5:30. Tomorrow we’re going for a walk to the Botanical Gardens, and maybe to climb/hike up Penang Hill afterwards. I love Penang a great deal more than KL, though they’re both pretty good once I get out of my head. I love you. Talk to you again soon!

***

Heya gorgeous. I’m feeling a lot better since I sent that email. I did spend a lot of time stuck in my head, and I puzzled out a few reasons why I was feeling so uncomfortable. Foremost is because I’m in a foreign culture and I don’t know how to do anything like get food or go out to have a good time – I rely on everyone else to provide sustenance and entertainment for me. I didn’t have this problem in England because I was familiar with the culture and was more or less independent. It’s quite uncomfortable being so dependent and vulnerable in an unknown place. Furthermore, there actually *is* no one to talk to. It’s not just my imagining it, but I really am quite isolated here, even by my mother (who will often be talking about me with the people around us in Hokkien, and won’t explain what she said unless I ask her for a translation). But for lunch, Wu Shu took us out to a fancy restaurant on the top floor of his Aquatic Club. The view was beautiful, the food was great and Sin Ler (the 12yo who came to Australia) speaks excellent English. I had a great time and it allowed me to get out of my increasingly panicked head. Afterwards we had tea and biscuits (Chinese-style!) and I watched Sin Ler play Insaniquarium. It was so good to play a video game and not feel judged for not being present (or for being the loner in the corner on his gameboy). 3DS’, by the way, are 1000 ringgit here. That’s about $320AU. I sincerely doubt I’ll get any StreetPass hits while I’m here! [As it so happened, I got three. Two of them were from the US, and one of them was from Western Australia. No wonder nobody has any consoles when they’re all thousands of ringit to buy.]

More stories to come!

Stories from Singapore, part 2

Things in Singapore are going excellently! Although I have this delusion that we can do like, three tourist things a day, Beth and I are nevertheless making our way around a most incredible country.

One of the highlights I forgot to mention was the “doctor fish” at the night safari. Kangal fish (also known as doctor fish or nibbling fish) have the most peculiar habit of nibbling dead skin off a person. There is a fair amount of research that suggests this is very healthy and can help with various skin disorders. As we were leaving the safari, we heard a woman scream and a splash of water, and when we investigated she had pulled her feet out of the tank because the fish were swarming her. I found it irresistably tempting, so Beth and I paid for five minutes, washed our legs then dropped them in the tank as well. I personally burst out laughing uncontrollably for the whole five minutes, though I only had perhaps two dozen fish on me at the most. Beth, who appeared to be wearing socks made of fish, got used to the sensation very quickly and just shook her head at me. Photos (and possibly video?) to come.

 

Another highlight of the trip was visiting Virtual Land at Bugis Junction, after it was recommended by a friend of a friend. And what a fantastic recommendation it was. Virtual Land is a fantasy dreamscape where any video arcade nerd can happily nerdgasm him (or her)self to death. It was the biggest, loudest, flashiest arcade I have ever seen with some incredibly cool technology. In one corner, a group of machines was set up to play a hybrid card-video game, where the player brought his own deck of cards, laid four of them out on the table and moved them around the board. In real time on the screen above him, those cards would manifest as armies and the four armies would run around in the direction they were aimed, trying to defend their gates, assault the enemy’s and survive the encounter. It was incredible how much strategy could be employed with four individual units, each of which could change focus within a moment from a quick slide of the hand or the press of a button – some very fluid and mesmerising gameplay there. There were a few 4D machines, which were 3D games inside a carriage that jolted and shot air at you when you were desperately trying to fend off zombies. A LAN station upstairs overlooked the arcade where hardcore and casual PC gamers united to check emails and play DOTA. Various machine-gun and pistol shooting games (most of which were very good) lined the walls. Groups of six people crowded around a single machine, each of them controlling a battle station to shoot or capture aquatic animals. (I was particularly delighted by how many children, women and casual gamers were drawn to this simple but addictivly rewarding game.) The Skilltesters were largely untouched, the racing games of excellent quality, and the physical games all very flashy (though there was no DDR to be found, which amazed me – Singaporeans seem big on hand-based rhythm games instead, pressing flashing buttons and panels in time to the music). But most pleasurable of all was the back room, almost as big as the rest of the arcade, full to the brim of fighting games. There was Tekken and Soul Calibur and Street Fighter IV, but also rarer games like King of Fighters, Blazblue, X-men vs Street Fighter and Street Fighter II. And the kids (and men) who played these games, my goodness… Having amassed a pile of discarded coke cans, their reflexes were lightning fast as their hands twitched and mashed and flittered around like hummingbirds. Some of them were mediocre, but many of them were incredible to behold. Ah, it was a night to remember (and I’m happy to report I didn’t spend a single dollar).

 

But perhaps the most enjoyable highlight so far was seeing Ivy again for the second time this week. Beth stayed in the hotel to rest while Ivy and I went to her hotel to practice Muay Thai. It was a crazy fun experience for me, and I think I adapted quite well to the “rules”. It was a matter of reducing my available skill set to straights, hooks and uppercuts, push kicks and shin kicks to the body. At first I found it incredulous that the massive gloves could be held up in front of the face and form an impenetrable shield, but I soon got over the unrealism and just had a great time wailing on Ivy and getting wailed on in return. I’m also amazed and delighted to report that there was nothing egotistic about our exchange – I wasn’t trying to show off or dominate, I was just having a great time learning from and playing with my oldest friend. As a very special and unexpected gift, she also gave me the handwraps she wore in her first championship fight, and taught me how to wrap them. I will practice every day until they’re perfect!

 

Now, for some lessons I learned from the fight…

  • Ears actually ring when they’ve been beaten. (The gloves are huge striking surfaces, so I think it’s the first time anyone’s actually hit me on the ear with a hook rather than on the face.)
  • When fighting a left-hander, watch their left hand. I got caught by more left-hooks than any other technique because I kept dropping my right hand to deflect kicks.
  • Keep your hands up! If you’re wearing gloves, they’ll stop a punch in its tracks no problem, even if there’s a fist-sized gap in your defence. Gloves are much, much bigger than fist-sized.
  • This isn’t so much a lesson as an insight. I was throwing a left-hook towards her at the same time she was throwing a left-hook towards me. Rather than risking hitting her but also taking a hit, I changed the direction of the strike and punched her in the bicep instead, stopping her hook in its tracks. It was a glorious moment of reflexivity.
  • It’s much harder to catch or hold someone when you’re wearing gloves that are so big you can barely wiggle your thumbs!
  • Muay Thai employs one-legged take-downs if you’ve caught a kick. It does not condone two-legged sweeps, though.
  • I have a preference for throwing certain techniques from my right side, and certain techniques from my left. Although I’m far more ambidextrous than I used to be, this is still something to be conscious of.
  • Muay Thai basics: The stance is front-facing, with the back heel slightly off the floor (or ready to come slightly off the floor). Elbows typically cut from top to bottom, or straight up. Knees are not angled up, but forwards: to achieve this, lean the torso back and bring the patella into prominence as if you were hitting straight ahead.

All right, that’s enough about fighting. God I love martial arts.

 

After that, Ivy and I went for a run around the harbourside. It was a lovely experience to be running with a friend! I’ve only had one other friend whose ever enjoyed running, so this was a highly pleasurable delight for me. And the view, my God the view! The durian-shaped Esplanade, the magnificent double-helix bridge, the quays, the fort park, the mynah and ko-well birds, the Marina Bay Sands hotel, the Art Science Museum, Gardens by the Bay, the dam, the hotels and buildings and Muay Thai fighters who were out for their training runs… It was a beautiful way to see the city, though as I discovered this morning, my calves did not approve. We were going to get bubble tea afterwards, but Ivy needed to slip off to see her boyfriend so we went our separate ways once more. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to meet up again before I leave!

 

Beth and I had a vegetarian lunch beneath the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple, a hearty meal for a very small donation, and spent the rest of that day at Marina Bay Sands. We shopped a while, exploring the wonders of TWG (an incredible tea store), before heading to the Art Science Museum. We wandered through the photo exhibits before we were too exhausted to keep going (what a crazy idea it is to be up at 8 in the morning!) and stopped for tea and coffee. To my surprise, it was thoroughly invigorating, and we soon pressed on to the lego exhibit. Man, the art that can be made of lego was both profound and exquisitely beautiful. The artist, Nathan Sawaya, has great insight into the human condition and is able to express it so very well. If the exhibition ever comes to your corner of the globe, I give it my stamp of approval!

 

Afterwards we returned to the MBS shopping complex where Beth found an adorable stationery/bag/paraphernalia store, and I rather foolishly attempted to wax-skate. It had promoted itself as “ice skating”, but it wasn’t even close. The lack of friction lead to some pretty pathetic slips and slides, and one very waxy fall. Although we were running late, we were hoping to catch the sun set across the bay, but I had utterly forgotten the way and we wandered around quite lost and exhausted. Finally giving up, we asked for directions to the train from a man at the concierge desk. But as we reached the train station, I thought I recognised where we were and convinced Beth to follow me. What a terribly sad moment that was, because while I recognised the general direction we had to travel in, I hadn’t realised just how far away it was. Twenty minutes later, we turned back and approached the same concierge desk with the same question. I tapped my nose at him and he gave me a smile, and off we went again. For reals this time.

 

One and a half days left in Singapore. Well, one day really seeing as it’s nearly noon and Beth’s still asleep. Undoubtably I would be as well if she hadn’t woken me. Our sleeping patterns really have been quite awful since we arrived, struggling with jetlag and a new environment, and with no natural lighting whatsoever. Ah well. Hope everyone’s enjoying their holidays! Go see The Hobbit and The Life of Pi if you haven’t already!

Stories from Singapore

Singapore has been an incredible experience. On my fifth day in, I can say that there have been some low points and many high points. Take for example my few moments in the country. I was so excited I let out blips of cheers and bursts of laughter, delighting in the merlions and the humidity and the word “Singapore” everywhere. So much of my life had been spent dreaming of going to Singapore to be with a very special someone, and even though it’s been seven years, I couldn’t help but feel excited to be back in the country I had dreamed of for so long. Things after that went pretty steeply downhill though. My first night here was pretty hard- I hadn’t slept the night previous because I was having too much fun on the plane, and I felt so exhausted and beat down. Against all my hopes, the weather was not much improved from the bitter and cloudy days of London, for it was raining when I arrived. I once again donned my raincoat and laid plastic bags within my suitcase to prevent it from being drenched, and forged out into the rain to find the hotel. Although I got lost, I did eventually manage to find it, and I checked into the deceptively tiny room with relief. (By tiny, I mean that as I walked through the door I suddenly hit the bathroom wall and nearly stumbled over the very sizeable bed.) I managed to Skype with Bethwyn for a short while, but I was so very tired, and hungry, and I was determined to find an umbrella to prevent the difficulty I had in getting to the hotel in relative dryness.

Our hotel is located in Chinatown, where the majority of residents are Chinese and have little knowledge of English. I therefore found it extremely challenging to ask if they had any umbrellas. My rudimentary knowledge of Mandarin served me very little, and as I wandered from shop to shop, street to street, my hopes began to wilt under the constant rebuff of repeated unsuccess. Eventually I gave up and decided I’d just buy dinner, but even that was not so easy. The restaurants, hawkers, food courts and kitchens were all Chinese, and of the hundreds of dishes I had seen so far, I had found only one or two to be vegetarian, and then, only sliced cucumbers or bowled bean sprouts. In my exhausted desperation, I stumbled into a food court, found a “noodle with bean sauce and tofu” dish and bought it. The man made the noodles from scratch, pounding and stretching the dough with exquisite ease. Alas, when it was served, the “bean” sauce turned out to be “beef” sauce. With tremendous sadness at this new setback, I ate around the beef as best I could, but nevertheless swallowed much and felt quite sickened by it.

I returned to the hotel (after managing to discover a small umbrella stand inside a shopping complex), somewhat miserable and tried well by the day’s long challenges. My intention was to sleep early, from 7pm-4am, whence I would catch a taxi to the airport to meet Bethwyn. Alas, I slept quite fitfully until I woke up and checked the time. “8:30? It cannot be… Have I slept so long I missed the flight? Is that the correct date?” Nope, it wasn’t. It was still the 31st, and I’d only slept for an hour. I spent the next six hours partially asleep but mostly awake, until at 2am I just sat up, not willing to suffer insomnia any longer.

The taxi arrived a little early, and as we sped merrily to the airport down the midst of two lanes, the driver cheerfully remarked on all the people who were desperately trying to catch a ride home after their New Year shenanigans. “Look at this poor woman! She think she can catch the taxi lah, but all the people at the Marina Bay Sans no can find the taxi! She got no hope lor,  I tell you true! She better wait til six o clock, catch the train one!” he crowed. I had a really great ride with him, grateful that I had booked ahead rather than wandered the streets desperately.

Alas, another setback befell me. I had accidentally left Beth’s flight information at the hotel in my haste to get out the door. But I made an educated guess and waited around at the arrivals. To my dispirit,  my guess was wrong, and though Beth arrived in the same terminal, she was at a different exit. Fortunately I found my way to her, and happily reunited, we had breakfast at a Chinese cafe. Having not slept all night, Bethwyn left the decision-making to me. But alas (a word that seems too-well used today), once again my resilience was tested. The tofu rice I ordered was covered in the same beef sauce of the day prior, and I could find no vegetarian meal for Beth so she had to start the day with a chicken soup. It was refreshing to eat hot food, but far from ideal. We returned to the hotel by taxi and slept eagerly until 2pm. Sadly, this would become the start of our warped sleeping patterns of late nights and later starts.

After sleeping for a few consecutive hours, I felt so much better. My weary spirit had finally gotten some rest, and so with renewed vigour, we set out to explore Chinatown. We visited the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple (impressive, but there was no sign of the tooth), bought chestnuts from the pasar malam, and generally wandered around the numerous shopping complexes nearby. In truth, that’s how we spent the next few days. Every couple of metres there seems to be a new shopping complex, and it’s not at all difficult to get distracted by many of them and sucked in for a few hours.

We got the rare pleasure of seeing Ivy, my once-dear girlfriend (whom I saw but twice during our long-distance relationship of one and a half years). She took us to a locally renowned food court and taught us the art of ordering yong tau foo,  and the pleasures of drinking sugarcane. She suggested some further places to visit, and arranged a future meeting for jogging and perhaps a little Muay Thai. Obviously I can’t wait.

More-or-less every day, Beth and I would head out to find a new book store which she had read about (and the many distracting areas surrounding them). Ivy had made some excellent recommendations for where to look, and we wandered the streets with reasonable competence as we found our way to Books Actually, Littered with Books and Kinokuniya. I very nearly bought a dictionary guide of “Singlish”, the rich Singaporean version of English made from a half dozen different languages, and briefly contemplated a new career in translating English books for a Singaporean audience.

One of the numerous places we went shopping was the legendary Orchard Road, which was like having Carousel, the Galleria, Karrniyup shopping centre, Gateways Midland and Cockburn, Hay Street and Murray Street Mall all jammed next to each other on one road. We bought chocolate fudge (such a bad vegan XD), bags, shoes, a watch, a very comfy poncho,  and plenty of delicious food (kueh!!!).

Apart from the very generous opportunities to go shopping, Beth and I also visited the Night Safari. We had bought a “zoo-hopper” pass, allowing us to visit the Singapore Zoo as well, but alas, our ticket to the Zoo went unused as we arrived too late to enter. The Night Safari seemed to make up for it though. After an overpriced but delicious dinner, we caught a performance with Malayan firebreathers, who created impressive torrents of flames and skillfully shot darts. They had such a great time, dancing and laughing and blowing fire that it was hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm. Their performance was followed by a thoroughly hilarious Creatures of the Night Show where we got to meet racoons, otters, a timberwolf, a dingo and various other nocturnal creatures. It was the host who really completed the experience though, cracking well-polished jokes and putting on an amazing stageshow. The tram ride through the seven-climate exhibits was humbling and pleasurable, bringing us within arms-reach of buffalo, deer, flamingoes, waving elephants and sleeping lions. By the time we had finished, it was so late that the trains couldn’t take us all the way home so we ended up catching a taxi.

There is but one more adventure I’d like to regale you with. After a thoroughly relaxing half-body massage (I felt so loose and woozy  afterwards!), I grabbed my overly full bag of laundry and set out to find a laundromat which I had located on googlemaps. Unfortunately I got turned around quite thoroughly, and ended up wandering down random streets in the hopes of seeing something indicative of the right path. On just such a street, I passed an unremarkable acupuncturist clinic whose lights were still on. As I walked past, I glanced inside and saw an old man lean forwards and palm strike the shoulder of another man (who was not quite as old, but certainly wasn’t young) whose back was to me. The shoulder is not a particularly obvious target, and the palm is not a particularly dangerous weapon, so I wondered if they were two old men, joking around and copying kung fu movies. Nevertheless I backtracked after I had passed the store and paused a moment to watch as this old man struck again.

This time the younger man evaded the blow and stepped in to countering-range. Having missed his strike, the elder man converted his palm strike into a sweeping throw by turning the palm up and unbalancing his friend. He did this simple technique with such grace, fluidity and a kind of calm and casualness that awed me. He said some words in Mandarin, of which “gong fu” was unmistakably one of them. It was then that they noticed me then and called out to me in Mandarin. I answered meekly that I didn’t understand and nodded politely, hastily walking away. How I wish I had said “Zhiao ahn! Gong fu ma? Wo shi gong fu. Nah,  tai qi, shaolin,  baguazhang, xingyi.” Not that my Chinese is good enough to communicate even simple words. But as I walked away embarrassed, I felt that maybe, just maybe if I had stuck around and tried to overcome the language barrier, I might have learned something great from that old man.

As it happened, my vague wandering brought me back to that acupuncture shop. The two gentlemen were still practicing, but this time they paid me no mind. I watched as the elder deflected a high punch and fluidly countered with a strike to the carotid. He spoke in Mandarin and his friend punched again with the other hand. The elder moved to the same side and deflected the same way, but instead of striking to the carotid, he struck to the back of the neck and brought the younger down with a gentle but firm control. I fancy that it was because the angle had changed and he was showing how even if the technique fails, it still can be useful. Finally, the younger man threw a low punch which the elder deflected on the inside. He struck his friend’s ribs with the palm of his hand in a way that cannot be described. I cannot identify just what it was about the way he pulled his fingers back to expose the heel of his hand, but it was obvious to me that this man had been training for decades. After that they started talking and both sat down. Because they had not yet acknowledged me, I felt it too rude to intrude and demand that they teach me something. But it was a remarkable and glorious slice of martial arts in the exotic east.

Oh, and as it happened, I had passed the laundromat very early-on in my adventure. I had just been looking across the street, rather than right next to me. I think I was supposed to walk past that laundry so that it would lead me to the old man. I am grateful for the opportunity.

That’s all for now my friends. Perhaps the second half of my Singapore trip will come soon! Thanks for reading!

Letters from London, part 4

The final installment of Letters from London, but not the end of my travel adventures…

 

***

 

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really looking forward to leaving England and being with you in Singapore. The magic is finally starting to wear off. While I still enjoy the majesty of coming into a house and hanging your raincoat up on a rack, the warmth of a hearthfire,  the pounds and the accents and the policemen with bobby hats… It’s gone from a magically elating experience to a rather mundane, everyday life sort of one. I guess I’m finally used to it so I’m not overwhelmed with fascination and delight anymore. And once the wonder diminishes, you’re left with an ordinary life that you have to make the most of. And that life is a little disenchanting too – the weather, the crowds, the travel time, the collective attitude of London where everyone keeps their heads down and gets on with their business as quick as they can… I miss the open spaces of Australia, the bright sun and the early days, the driving, my friends at training, and you most of all. I guess I’m homesick. I feel sorry for Eugene, who wishes more than anything else for the ability to drive before he forgets how. (I encouraged him to hire a car and go on a road trip, to his great delight.)

 

I’ve also been struggling a bit mentally today. I got stuck early on in a cycle of worrying about meaningful work and fearing boredom in my future. It was eating me up and tearing me apart as I fed more and more into the cycle, and saying my lines in my head helped a little but not a lot. Instead I just walked out the door to go have a good time in England, and I’m so glad I did. Once I got out of my head, I started appreciating the wonder of hearing (and watching) a robin sing, doing kung fu in a tennis court (because the park was too muddy, and after my mountain adventures I’ve had quite enough of mud) and just enjoying being alive. It was a wonderful reminder that all suffering is born in the mind, and that most of it is unnecessary.

 

I made my way to the museum of natural history, a very old building full of remarkable specimens of the world. The first discovered dinosaur teeth, Neanderthal skull, meteorite, collections of bones from dodos and dinosaurs, fossils, gemstones (what an exhibit- you have to come here!), Darwin’s handwriting on a pigeon skeleton, a magnificently constructed brachiosaurus skeleton… And I’ve been in less than half of the building!

 

The way in was a bit of a trial though. There was a queue of about an hour to enter the building, but I lined up like everyone else. After about 40 minutes though, a group of four youths cut in front of us. The man in front of me demanded they go to the back of the line, so they shifted back a few places until they were behind me. They mocked him because the guards didn’t want to trouble themselves by sending them to the back. I was feeling happy and charitable so I didn’t mind, and when the youngest (13?) of them said “How do you like them apples?” I turned around and laughed with them.

 

We got chatting and they identified themselves as gypsies who sounded Irish but lived in England in a hotel. They didn’t work or study, but rather travelled around. I asked quite obliviously how they could afford to fund this, and they identified some celebrity as a relation and then burst out laughing admitting it was a lie. I didn’t really get a straight answer, and the looks they gave me suggested they robbed/scammed people for money. Eugene’s encountered quite a few gypsies so far, and I felt most uncomfortable when I turned much back to them and they nudged my bag once or twice. After the apples jibe, it turned out they weren’t very pleasant company and enjoyed mocking and fooling the guards into telling them about the place they had jumped the queue for. When we finally enterred the building we split up, but while I was queuing to see the main dinosaur exhibit they found me again and started taking photos with me. When I realised the queue was another hour, I slipped out of line when they weren’t looking rather than enduring their company any longer. I’ve been a bit worried I’ll bump into them again, but fear shouldn’t stop me from enjoying myself so I’ve tried to move on. I rather do wish that such quarrelsome people didn’t exist, but I also believe it’s good to be challenged and brought out of your comfort zone. Perhaps there was a lesson I could have learned from my exposure to them.

 

I love you. While the museum is super busy, I’ve found a large cafe/picnic area underground which is hardly being used. It’s so nice to get a break from the crowds.

 

***

 

After I sent that last email, I spent another hour or two in the museum of natural history. I’d seen the treasures, the Vault (and gemstones), human evolution and a few fossils, but I’d barely seen a quarter of the museum. I queued for half an hour to see the dinosaurs, which were mostly replicas of skeletons. I squared off with an animatronic t-rex, which made my heart race but I survived without incident (I think the ghost walk has made me rather fearless), and I moved on to an exhibit with a giant blue whale suspended from the ceiling. The skeletons of various kinds of whales and models of dolphins, narwhals and other sea-mammals also hung from the ceiling. For some reason I felt tremendously sad, as if I were standing in a room of death. I looked around awhile, but was soon unnerved by the taxidermied bodies of various animals seemingly pressing against the glass to loom over me.

 

I left rather hurriedly to get home and get changed for a shaolin kung fu class I had found. Having been unable to attend their class last time due to spending too much time in the Winter Wonderland, I was keen not to miss it a second time. I was in such a hurry to get there that I skipped dinner (though I hurriedly ate a falafel on the way) and managed to find my way there ten minutes before class started. Alas, the great red gates were closed. I guessed that they had been shut some time and no one had updated the website. I had tried calling them throughout the day to confirm it would have been okay for me to join them, but no one answered and I finally understood why. All of that excitement and enthusiasm and adrenaline left my body all at once and I struggled not to be crestfallen.

 

I decided rather spontaneously that I would not let the evening be ruined, and I found my way to Namco Bandai Fun Station (Namco Station for short) – a three floor arcade. There, I promised myself I would spend a maximum of £10, and to my surprise, I did. I honed my dragon punch technique (despite the sign saying “No run-ups please” – a flying punch isn’t a running punch, right?), played a reflex game where you had to hit flashing lights (so much fun! I nearly went to Madame Tussaud’s to play the one they have there!), went through a laser maze (get to points A, B and C in the fastest possible time without triggering the shining green lasers. The dark smoky room with Mission Impossible music was ridiculously fun, as well as expensive. I triggered six lasers as I swept, ducked and dive-rolled through the tiny maze) and blew the rest of my money on Terminator Salvation, an excellent machine-gun game. In short, it was (rather sadly) a highlight of the trip.

 

I slept in very late the next day, until past 10am (nearly 12 hours of sleep). I organised breakfast for Eugene and I (he was working at reception for twelve hours so other people brought him food) and then hastily got ready for a new kung fu class I found. This school taught Hung Gar, the style that earth-bending is based on, so I was really excited. Despite leaving an hour before class started, I got there late – travel just takes so long in London because everything is so spread out. I ran the last few hundred metres to find the place, and when I finally got there it appeared closed. I banged on the door, ready to apologise for interrupting the class, and called the number on a nearby poster. It turned out that they too had closed for Christmas, and they would not reopen for another few days. I tried not to let the disappointment wound me, but this was the third class I’d missed. With a heavy heart, I boarded the train to make the long journey back.

 

On the way though, I heard an announcement say “Exit here for the British Museum”. I spontaneously got off, as I had been contemplating seeing the Museum as one of my final things to do in London. I wandered around quite happily, deeply interested in the evolution and nuances of Japanese culture, and casually interested I’m everything else the museum held.

 

I’m currently in an Italian restaurant (Bella Roma) across the road, but I’ll be returning in a moment to see the exhibits on medieval Europe and India. When I get back to Eugene’s place, I plan to do my own training in my room (it will probably be too dark to train outside), go for a Jack the Ripper tour of Hyde Park (how fearless I’ve grown!), and then watch a movie with Eugene in the theatre room. It looks to be a late night and early start, with a 7am departure to the airport. I’m sure I’ll sleep on the plane though.

 

***

 

I left when the museum closed, but missed my train stop because I was too busy reading AFFC. Consequently it took 25m longer to get back, and I didn’t especially feel like a stroll in Hyde Park in the dark in my track pants.

 

Instead, I resolved to do my own training since I couldn’t find a club to do it with. Gavin’s (the guy whose room is being loaned to me) room is tiny, but there was a gap of about 1-by-3 metres between his bed and desk, and that was enough room to do plenty of calisthenic exercises. I started with push-ups (37 on my knuckles, 3 on my palms), the four minute sprinting/leg-swapping exercise Bert taught me, dips (30), ab-blasters (I convinced myself to do just one, then once I had begun I managed to keep going for the full six), followed by 50 “little kicks” (which I had pardoned myself from doing since I completed the ab-blasters, but I did them anyway) and then 30 one-legged squats (15 with each leg). Between each I only allowed myself a few seconds of rest, so it was quite an intensely draining burst of exercise. I felt very sick and shaky afterwards, unable to eat for… well, it’s been about 45 minutes and I’m still not hungry. But afterwards, as I was showering, I was surprised to see how healthy and beautiful my body looked with my lean torso and sculpted muscles. I thought I’d put on a stack of weight and lost a lot of fitness, so it was good to see that my body hadn’t changed too much during this period of indulgence.

 

Thanks for listening to me ramble. I know it’s egotistic to take pride in something as unimportant as my body,  but I wanted someone to know anyway. I’m a little undecided whether or not to post this to my blog – it’s an honest expression of how I’m feeling right now, but it is quite egotistic… What are your thoughts?

 

Anyway, after a quick shower (cold to start with, but the thermostat defaults to hot and it soon felt like I’d overheat and pass out), Imanaged to force myself to Kathmandu to pick up some dinner. As well as the complimentary puppadum, I also ordered some sliced mango cheeks to restore my blood sugar (because I was shaking so much). I’ve come to the realisation that I push myself way harder when I train by myself than when I train under a teacher because I perpetuate delusions around how much I actually can endure and why stopping to rest is promoting weakness. While I think it helps me work harder, it’s quite inconvenient to feel so sick afterwards. I guess I’ve got a long way to go in terms of letting go of ego, pride and delusion.

 

… Oh! And one more thing I wanted to mention was that Kathmandu gave me a 10% discount. How lovely! I paid with a £20 note and left the change on the platter, which was about 8% of the bill, so I think we both won.

 

***

 

Whoops! Sent that email a little early. I looked up and saw that, at 8:15 in the morning, the sun was just peaking the horizon. Little beams of pure golden sun flashed out from between the buildings. It was beautiful.

Eugene and I had not time to watch that movie (whose name I keep forgetting), but we did watch the very last episode of Survivorman,  which we’d been saving so long we forgot about it. Les used a lighter to make fire when his vine snapped (disappointing!) and when he got very sick from drinking bad water, he bailed two days early. I empathise, but it wasn’t the strongest show for the series to end on.

 

All right, in the airport. Gotta go! Love you babe. Not sure when I’ll have reception/internet, but perhaps I’ll see you in Singapore when you arrive! I love you!

 

***

 

I’m at Kuala Lumpur. It’s about 1am London time, or 9am Perth/KL time, and I’m pretty ridiculous exhausted. I only slept for half an hour on the plane as it was taking off and spent the rest of the time enthralled in watching Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (satisfying, and not overly cheesy), Ice Age: Continental Drift (teenaged Peaches and her cute mole-friend! We must see this together), playing ResiRev (to my surprise, I played through most of the bonus missions a second time to try and max out my high scores. I had long ago decided that it wasn’t worth the time and effort, but it seems I was wrong) and watching Real Steel (which I’m somewhat perplexed to declare was amazing. Something about boxing, Hugh Jackman and giant robots just did it for me). I also caught a quick episode of Stan Lee’s show “Superhumans”, where his assistant travels around the world finding remarkable (even super-powered) human beings. The case that most interested me was a “martial arts master” who could knock people out without touching them by focussing his qi. It was appalling, but his students genuinely believed in it and thus fed into the deception that allowed them to drop their own blood pressure until they passed out at his suggestion. When he tried it on the presenter, nothing happened. What a terrible reputation he’s giving martial artists!

 

In short, it was a pleasant flight that seemed to pass quickly. Definitely have to remember to pre-book a vegetarian meal and to check-in online to bypass the 45 minute queue. You might like to consider doing the same. A couple (four?) of hours before your flight leaves, log onto the website and check in to save time and to make sure the plane knows you’re coming in case you run late.

 

Alas, when I got off the plane, I had some trouble getting my shoes on. They had literally changed shape, and had large moulds in then in the arches and balls of my feet. I can think of only one reason: perhaps as I was cleaning the mud off them, some water got trapped between the waterproof layers. The change in air pressure warped the molecules and distorted the shape. At first it was terribly uncomfortableto walk, but then I decided to see it as a free massage.After a while, the mounds smoothed themselves out though not perfectly so – perhaps that will come in time.

 

Also! I learned about g-force from “Superhumans”. When a plane takes off or lands, gravity momentarily doubles. I’ve never realised that’s what I was feeling before, but I tried lifting my arms just before we touched down and they only went half as high as I was expecting. So satisfying! I’d love to recreate that feeling constantly to train in, like Goku on King Kai’s planet (which has ten tines Earth’s gravity).

 

I am so tired that I keep misspelling simple words and have practically no logical progression of ideas. But I won’t sleep until I’ve checked in, for fear of being robbed in my sleep!

 

I’m using KLIA’s free wi-fi.

 

The humidity here is at once comforting and irritating. I wonder how you’ll respond to it.

 

I miss you.